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The Golden Circle – It’s All About the ‘Why’

19 Feb

I will intentionally go out of my way to tell people why Apple products are superior to any other product on the market. I will (and have) wait in line for eight hours outside an Apple store in order to purchase the new iPhone even though I can purchase one a week later with no line. I will pay on average 25% more money for an Apple product as opposed to a comparable non-Apple product, with a smile on my face. I will gladly suffer many inconveniences caused by Apple products and not hold it against them for a moment. What’s more, I am not the only person who does this. There are millions of Apple fanatics who do the same thing or more! Why?

According to Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action”, a book I just recently read, the answer is that Apple understands ‘why’ they do what they do. It is this understanding of ‘why’ that

Simok Sinek - Author of "Start with Why"

allows Apple, or any other company following their ‘why’, to be so successful and command such a dedicated following. Sinek argues in his book “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” and he calls this principle the “Golden Cirlce”. I think it is very profound and is something a lot of organizations miss.

The Golden Circle Explained:

Imagine a target. It has three rings. The outer most ring is the ‘what’, followed by the ‘how’ ring, and lastly the ‘why’ ring in the middle. Sinek says that most organizations start with the ‘what’ and work their way in to the ‘why’. Companies always tell their customers ‘what’ they do first and not ‘why’ they do what they do.

The Golden Circle

For example, if Apple were to start with ‘what’ they do their marketing message could say “we make great computers, they’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly, want to buy one?”. This is not exactly the most convincing or inspiring sales message ever heard. In fact, it sounds a lot like most other companies and sales pitches explaining ‘what’ they do instead of ‘why’ they do it. Here’s more like what Apple’s marketing message sounds like: “everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently, the way we challenge the status quo is we make our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly, we just happen to make great computers, want to buy one?” All that really changed here is the order of reasons you should buy a computer, going from ‘why’ they do what they do, to ‘what’ they do. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

This helps explain why people like me will do seemingly absurd things like wait in line for eight hours to buy an iPhone the day it comes out! I don’t do all those things simply because Apple makes beautifully designed computers that are easy to use and user friendly, although that does go into my decision, the real reason I buy from Apple is because I identify with their ‘why’. Like Apple, I too want to challenge the status quo, I don’t want the products that everyone else has or that are built all the same way, I want something that is bigger than that and that is why I buy Apple products. I believe, and literally buy into their mission for creating products. The Golden Circle principle is powerful.

To further the point of the Golden Circle, if Apple’s mission was not ‘to challenge the status quo’ and was instead ‘build computers’ it would make no sense for them to have made some of the decisions they have made. However, through this filter, it makes sense why Apple would move into other industries outside of the computer industry, they are ‘challenging the status quo’. What business does a computer company have being in the MUSIC industry? That is unless they were a company set on ‘challenging the status quo’ and then it makes perfect sense why a company like Apple would go into the music industry…to challenge the status quo! The same could be said about the cell phone industry and Apple’s iPhone. It is within their mission of ‘challenging the status quo’ to move into those industries. So much so that in 2007 Apple changed their name from Apple Computers, Inc. to Apple, Inc. Makes sense because they are not just a computer company.

History is littered with examples of companies that lost their ‘why’. In his book, Sinek tells the story of the railroad industry in the late 19th century which was dominating the transportation industry at the time. All of these companies defined themselves by ‘what’ they did and not ‘why’ they did it. They would say “I am in the railroad business” and that was enough for the short term. However, the beginning of the 20th century introduced new transportation options, such as the car and later the airplane, eventually crippling the railroad industry. Now, had the railroad industry defined themselves as being in the “people transportation” business, they could have noticed emerging technology and followed trends leading them to adapt and move into the car or airplane business and thus still thrive through the 20th century.

The Golden Circle principle is profound and not only for business, but for many different facets of life. Relationships, work, religion, and money can all be filtered through asking ourselves why? The more I think about the Golden Circle principle the more I find myself asking ‘why?’ Why do I do this or that, or why don’t I do this or that. Doing this has allowed me to focus on the important things (the things I know ‘why’) and question other things (the things I don’t know ‘why’). Simon Sinek gave a presentation at a TED conference a few years ago (embedded below) and this is where I first came across his Golden Circle principle. I would highly suggest checking it out, as well as his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
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